Edwards's Dodo (detail), painted by Roelant Savery in 1626.

Live Forever: The Lost Tapes

Members of the British band Breezer are big fans of Oasis.

This is not unlike being a dodo bird enthusiast. The dodo, which was indigenous to the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, became extinct in 1681. Said British enthusiasts can visit Oxford and see a head and a foot of a dodo. Or go to the British Museum and see a foot. But the dodos (unless efforts being undertaken by Colossal Biosciences are successful: Beth Shapiro, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, says she has sequenced the dodo genome: don’t these people see movies?), aren’t coming back

And while Liam and Noel Gallagher are not extinct, Oasis isn’t coming back. The band had a good run. Established 310 years after the end of the dodo (might as well keep the metaphor going), the band dissolved in 2009.

But unlike a head and a foot and various other bones, the band left behind 14 albums (seven studio, two live and five compilations), one EP, 28 singles, 19 promotional singles, six DVDs, and 37 music videos, so there are certainly a whole lot of artifacts. To say nothing of the fact that in addition to the two brothers, Paul Arthurs, Paul McGuigan, Tony McCarroll, Alan White, Gem Archer, and Andy Bell are still non-extinct and all of the above are in their 50s, so demographically they have a non-trivial way to go.

Bobby Geraghty, singer, songwriter and producer for Breezer, told The Guardian, “We just got bored waiting for Oasis to reform.”

So he set about training an AI system to “sing” like Liam. He said, “Obviously, our band sounded exactly like Oasis. So then all I had to do was replace my vocals with Liam’s.”

The result is a 33-minute album, The Lost Tapes Volume One, by AIsis.

And Liam Gallagher tweeted out a response having heard some of it: “it’s better than all the other snizzle out there.”

This occurred at approximately the same time that “heart on my sleeve” was released to the streaming services by Ghostwriter977, a song that was streamed some 15 million times before it was taken down because the song, which was seemingly by Drake was Fake Drake: an AI version of the singer’s vocals. And “heart on my sleeve” included vocals by Drake’s fellow countryman The Weeknd, except that version of The Weeknd is also a denizen of Cyberspace, not Canada.

Both Drake and The Weeknd—the real ones, that is—record for Universal Music Group (UMG). UMG led the effort to get the song taken off the streaming services. After all, Ghostwriter977 isn’t signed to any of the UMG labels.

And performers including Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny, Sting, Alicia Keys, SZA, Billie Eilish, Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Adele, Elton John, U2, J Balvin, Harry Style, Brandi Carlile, Coldplay, Post Malone, Pearl Jam, and Bob Dylan are in the UMG stable.

UMG, reporting its 2022 financial results, pointed out that it achieved:

“Global artist success across platforms, including: 4 of the Top 5 and 15 of the Top 20 IFPI Global Artists of the Year; 4 of the Top 5 global artists on Spotify; 7 of the Top 10 albums in the U.S. on the Billboard 200; and 6 of the Top 10 artists in the UK”

That contributed to revenue of €10,340 million, an increase of 21.6% compared to its performance in 2021: and let’s face it, while the pandemic was still an abiding consideration in 2021 compared with 2022, presumably while that meant fewer touring acts it meant more people staying put, likely doing more streaming.

So what happens to the fortunes of not just UMG but the recording artists if versions of The Lost Tapes Volume 1 start being created for many of the performers?

This isn’t just a theoretical consideration but a very real (fake) thing.

A statement UMG gave to MusicBusiness Worldwide says, in part, of the Fake Drake issue:

“[T]he training of generative AI using our artists’ music (which represents both a breach of our agreements and a violation of copyright law) as well as the availability of infringing content created with generative AI on DSPs, begs the question as to which side of history all stakeholders in the music ecosystem want to be on: the side of artists, fans and human creative expression, or on the side of deep fakes, fraud and denying artists their due compensation.”

Some commentators are simply saying that this situation is analogous to the way that technology has forced change on the music industry, citing things from Napster to the rise of sampling. While the former certainly lead to a different value proposition for recorded music that continues today, those who sample are undoubtedly more conscientious is de minimis use of source material given the number of those who didn’t having to change their value propositions as a result of legal convictions for copyright violation (e.g., Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke and the $5.3-million they had to pay the estate of Marvin Gaye).

Arguably, this situation is actually more analogous to the work being done Prof. Shapiro and her colleagues: the members of Breezer, Ghostwriter977 and who know who else have sequenced the audio genomes for several musicians and are entering things into, using UMG’s term, “the music ecosystem.”

The ecosystem now is essentially built on predictive algorithms so far as many listeners go. So if you like Oasis, you’re certain to like AIasis. If that is served up, then that’s fine, and odds are that for a large percentage of people who are fans of particular performers, it very well may be completely satisfying to them to hear sounds that are what they expect from those performers even though this is something that is completely synthetic.

According to Luminate, in 2022 there were 640,000 CD copies of Taylor Swift’s Midnight sold, as well as 945,000 vinyl albums, and 14,000 cassettes. Yet there were only 219,000 digital album sales for Midnight. Which could lead one to the conclusion that true Swift fans want artifactual versions of her recording.

Physical formats would be more likely to be the work of the authentic artists rather than an AI version simply because companies that own the means of production are more likely to listen to companies like UMG when it comes to what they are manufacturing.

However, Midnights had 1.791-billion on-demand audio streams, completely dwarfing the 1,599,000 physical versions.

Guess where the money is?

So would it be out of the realm of possibility that we will hear Before Midnight and After Midnight by tAIlor Swift at some point in the near future?

When it comes to the music industry as we know it, somewhere a dodo is smirking.

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Audio: AISIS – The Lost Tapes / Vol.1 (In Style of Oasis / Liam Gallagher – AI Mixtape/Album)

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